In December, the 10th World Congress of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) was held in Belgium over the course of eight days, with representatives from over 35 countries in attendance. Jesse Lessinger, member of Socialist Alternative and U.S. visitor to the Congress, reports on some of the key features of the discussion.
2010 will be seen as a turning point as it marks the “eve of mass movements in Europe and elsewhere.” There was a mood of confidence at the 10th CWI World Congress that we are entering a fundamentally different period — as we had predicted — of economic crisis, political instability and now, crucially, mass struggle where the ideas of socialism — our ideas — will come back onto the agenda.
At the end of 2010, the youth of Britain broke the silence on the question of resisting the new British government’s policies of savage cuts to public services and jobs when they came out in mass demonstrations and school occupations against planned tuition hikes.
At one demo, a student declared, “I’m not into politics. I’m not a communist or a socialist, but this is about class! It’s about the wealthy class trying to keep us from having what they have!” Members of the Socialist Party (CWI England & Wales) were quick to point out that this is the essence of what socialists are saying.
Events are unfolding at a breakneck pace. Millions of workers and young people in Europe and around the world are beginning to take action, many for the first time, and their outlook is rapidly changing.
Underlying the present situation is the global economic crisis, which has now entered a new phase. Facing the financial collapse of 2007-2008, governments pumped trillions into the banking system to stabilize the financial markets. Alongside this were also stimulus measures that were geared towards partially propping up consumption. A temporary “recovery” ensued and ruling classes around the world breathed a sigh of relief, but persistent mass unemployment and enormous public debt overhang revealed that the crisis had only been papered over.
A new panic has gripped the ruling elite, especially in Europe with the sovereign debt crisis starting in Greece, moving to Ireland, and spreading like a contagion threatening other countries such as Portugal and Spain. Joe Higgins, of the Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) and Member of European Parliament, explained that this was not a plague on humanity but “a man-made crisis injected into the system by the banks and speculators.” Now this same “wolf pack” of investors demands that governments carry out devastating cutbacks to social programs and public-sector jobs. Everywhere, their loyal servants in office meekly oblige in an attempt to make workers and youth pay for their crisis.
In the U.S., the cries from “deficit hawks” about the “necessary” cuts to Social Security and other programs are getting a stronger and stronger echo. At the same time, there are significant divisions in the ruling elite about what to do, and the extension of unemployment benefits, for example, represents a certain divergence from the European model. Nonetheless, on the state and local level the drumbeat of massive austerity resembles the sovereign debt crisis across the pond.
China and the “Emerging Economies”
The effects of this global economic crisis have been uneven. The Chinese regime’s massive stimulus was directed towards infrastructure, boosting industrial production as well. This has created enormous demand for importing raw materials, which has lifted other economies, especially in Asia and Latin America.
This growth in China, Brazil, India, and other countries comes at a cost as it is based partly on speculation and growing bubbles. With profits hard to come by in the U.S. and other industrialized nations, investors are flooding markets in these “emerging economies” with money, much of which comes from the huge bank bailouts and near-zero interest rates. This artificially creates demand and in turn inflates bubbles such as the housing bubble in China. If that bursts like the housing bubble in the U.S. did about three years ago, which was the trigger for the crisis in the first place, the effect would be catastrophic.
Many Latin American countries have moved toward economies based on raw materials, furthering a process of de-industrialization and further tying financial fates to the Chinese economy. If the Chinese economy sputters, it will bring these economies down with it.
Even with the breakneck growth currently taking place, it has not meant any substantial improvement in the living standards of Chinese workers and poor masses. Significantly, we’ve seen the early signs of the “unwritten fear of the Chinese regime” with industrial strike actions taking place in 2010 for higher wages and the right to independent unions.
Global Tensions and Instability
As a result of the global crisis, every ruling government around the world is under increasing pressure from its own national capitalist class to get an edge in the competitive world markets. There is a growing threat of an all-out trade war. On the surface, this has been expressed as a “currency war” as over 170 protectionist measures have recently been implemented by the G20 (Group of 20 – heads of state of 19 powerful countries and the European Union).
The idea that the U.S.’s world dominance in the post-Soviet Union period could usher in a new prosperous era has been dashed. Instead, the U.S. was unable to pressure other countries into an agreement on currency and trade at the last meeting of the G20. It is bogged down with the unending quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nightmare in Palestine and U.S. support for the brutal Israeli regime is another sore spot for the U.S. in the region.
The result of U.S. meddling in the Middle East has been an emboldened Iran. But the Iranian regime itself is also unstable as revealed by the mass revolt in the summer of 2009. The devastating floods in Pakistan further destabilized an already volatile situation.
Enter Workers and Youth
It is against this background of economic crisis, mounting global tensions, political turmoil and vicious attacks on living standards that workers and youth in their millions have entered onto the scene, particularly in Europe, in an effort to change the course of events.
Six general strikes rocked Greece in the first half of 2010, followed by another enormous strike in December just after the CWI Congress. In Spain, a general strike of 10 million took place in September. “Portugal is on the edge of a social explosion,” explained a CWI member from Portugal, where the biggest general strike since the 1974 revolution took place in November.
A 100-million-strong strike took place in India in September. There is rising class struggle in Egypt, Turkey and South Africa as well. Mass demonstrations have spread across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Bloc, in some cases bringing down governments.
In September and October, strike action and a series of mass mobilizations in France brought out millions against the government’s pension “reform” program. Significantly, the youth were drawn into the battles, participating in the demos and occupying schools and universities. The youth understood the need for solidarity with older workers and that the question of pension “reform” was also an issue for youth. Their involvement also reflected an expression of generalized anger at the hated Sarkozy government.
The new coalition government in Britain — with the Conservatives (Tories) as the main party and the Liberal Democrats as the junior partner — has already been shaken by the thousands of students and youth who have come out into the streets in November and December to protest the drastic hike of tuition fees, chanting “Tory scum, here we come!” The students have “broken the logjam” from the conspicuous lack of response from the official trade union leadership, and now there is a possibility of a one-day student strike, even maybe building up to a strike throughout the public sector.
Ireland has gone from rapid boom to total bust, and mass mobilizations of workers in Dublin have voiced clear opposition to the proposed austerity being shoved down the throats of the Irish working class by the IMF and the big European banks. Everywhere, mass resistance to cuts and deteriorating living conditions is emerging with workers and youth saying, “This is not our crisis, we won’t pay!”
Forward to Socialism
The upheaval in Europe is coming entirely from below against the wishes of the union officialdom, who are wedded to the ruling parties and their system of capitalism. The absence of a fighting leadership with a different outlook on how to organize society has been a major obstacle, preventing these tremendous struggles from moving forward.
There are no lasting solutions based on the blind alley of capitalism. These struggles against the cuts have to be linked to a struggle to transform society in a fundamental way. The CWI puts forward a democratic socialist society as the only lasting solution to this crisis. Socialism is a way of organizing society based on putting human need first, not mega-profits for the bankers and speculators. A crucial socialist policy would be the taking of big banks and investment firms under democratic public ownership to reverse the cuts and begin investment based on the needs of society as a whole.
The events of 2010 are nonetheless part the necessary steps in the process of rebuilding mass movements and mass organizations of the working class. Workers and youth have been given a taste of their collective strength. The anger and frustration is palpable and widespread.
At the moment, this anger is mainly directed at the bankers and politicians. It has not yet developed into anger at the system as a whole with a clear anti-capitalist mood or a rounded-out socialist outlook. But the events of last year have shown how quickly this volatile situation can affect people’s mood and change people’s outlook.
As the CWI’s world relations document points out, a huge barrier is that this anger has no channel in the form of mass political parties representing the views and interests of workers. A huge space exists for the development of new political formations as the first step towards building mass workers’ parties. The Socialist Party (CWI Ireland) has linked up with other groups to form the United Left Alliance (see side column), which may be able to win several seats in the Irish parliament in the upcoming elections.
A new political formation is also emerging in Kazakhstan that stands for the “re-nationalization of everything privatized, under workers’ control.” Called Kazakhstan 2012, this new organization — an attempt to bring various social movements and independent trade unions into one party — has the potential to become a mass force, with the CWI playing a central role.
Quoting poet W.B. Yeats, Peter Taaffe, General Secretary of the Socialist Party (England & Wales), explained that “all has changed, changed utterly.” A major step forward for the workers’ movement and the fight for socialism in one country can have a catalytic effect in the U.S. and around the world, such as the British youth inspired by the struggle in France who proclaimed at a mass demo, “We are all French today!”
Throughout the eight days of discussion and debate, the 10th CWI World Congress played a vital role in bringing socialists of the world together around a clear perspective, analysis, and strategy for the next period A number of documents were voted on and passed, and can be found at www.socialistworld.net. 2011 is a new year for advancing workers’ struggles and the ideas of socialism. Join Socialist Alternative and the CWI in the international movement for a socialist future!